Pioneering Remote Towers in the United States

The Airport

The Northern Colorado Regional Airport (FNL) was established in 1963 as a general aviation airport and is jointly owned and operated by the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland in Colorado.  Over the past 55 years, the airport has evolved from a small general aviation facility into a commercially-certified airport capable of supporting aircraft ranging in size from single-seat recreational aircraft to 200-passenger airliners. The area that the airport serves has more than doubled in population since 1990, which has created a need for an Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower solution to accommodate the growing demands. Northern Colorado continues to experience tremendous growth, making FNL the busiest airport in the state without an ATC tower.

The airport has supported airline services in the past; and most recently, Allegiant Airlines served the region with two destinations from 2003-2012. The airline citied the lack of a tower as one of the reasons they are no longer providing air service at the airport. Since 2012, FNL has been seeking a solution that would enable the return of commercial air service, accommodate the continued growth in general aviation demand, and support regional economic development.

The Technology: Prep & Install

In the Summer of 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it has entered into an agreement with Searidge Technologies to install, test and certify a Remote Tower System (RTS) at FNL.

“A Remote Air Traffic Control Tower is an innovative and cost efficient solution that will support increasing demand at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport now and into the future,” says Jason Licon, Airport Director, Northern Colorado Regional Airport.

Since the announcement, a significant amount of preparation work has taken place at the site in order to enable the non-towered airport to host Remote Tower evaluations. From drilling and boring for new power and communications infrastructure, to installation of the three airfield masts. A complete facility remodel was also completed which transformed a modular structure into a state of the art Remote Tower facility that meets all of the FAA guidelines for a Federal Contract Tower. FNL is now fully equipped for Remote Tower evaluations.

This project is one of the first in the world to integrate both video and track-based surveillance (radar) to provide a comprehensive view of the airport surface and Class D airspace to air traffic controllers working in a remote facility. The track-based surveillance enables Controllers to have awareness of aircraft close to the airport, and integration with the radar data ensures that flight data labels correlate with the aircraft on the video display.

The typical "out the window" view from a control tower is replicated by an array of cameras which provide a 360° view of the maneuvering area and airspace close to the airport. This is augmented by two further masts located close to each of the main runway thresholds. These masts provide panoramic views of the thresholds as well as zoomed views of the final approach paths, enabling the Controllers to have enhanced observation of these critical areas. Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras are also installed to replicate the binocular function required in a tower and as well as manual controls; the PTZ cameras have automated zoomed views of defined areas, such as runway sweep to check the runway is clear. The high-tech array will provide an enhanced view and situational awareness of the airport environment and Class D airspace that will be superior to that of a traditional airport traffic control tower, with construction, operational and staffing costs dramatically lower than necessary with a traditional control tower.

“Searidge is fortunate to have the support of the Colorado Division of Aeronautics, the FAA, FNL, our industry partners and local contractors; they have helped us reshape FNL into what is already one of the most technologically advanced airport facilities in the United States,” explains Rick Koller, Program Manager, Searidge Technologies.

The Remote Tower System Project is a strong collaboration between the FAA, Northern Colorado Regional Airport, and the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Division of Aeronautics, which provided the funding for the project.

FNL Remote Tower Project Schedule

Execute OTA - Complete

Site Survey - Complete

Site Preparations - Complete

Install Equipment - Complete

Site Acceptance Test - Complete

System Optimization (Phase 0) - November 2018

Passive Testing (Phase 1) - Spring 2019

Active Testing (Phase 2) - Summer 2019 - Winter 2019

Initial Operating Capability - Spring 2020